Latino Voters 2020: A Young Centrist Grapples With The Pandemic And Racial Inequality
Latinos comprise about 40% of the population in Texas, and their votes could be critical to races up and down the ballot. Campaigns are rediscovering the fact that there is no solid “Latino” bloc. Public Radio reporters across Texas are listening to these voters discuss the issues they care about and give their thoughts on where the nation should be heading.
This is the final story in a series about Latino voters in the 2020 Election.
Eight months ago, 18-year-old Izcan Ordaz was busy making plans for his post-high school life. That included going to a young Latino leadership conference in Fort Worth that his mom told him about.
It was February, before most places were forced to shut down because of COVID-19. Students stopped by different tables set up with information about college and financial aid. They also checked out sessions that covered topics like the importance of mentors and proper nutrition.
The top things on Izcan’s mind that day were networking, financial advice and motivational speaking. He thinks about serious topics a lot and likes to research what he doesn’t know. He said he wants to make smart decisions about his future.
“I’ve been watching a lot of YouTube videos on financial literacy,” he said. “Just learning the kinds of habits that people build to prevent a lot of mistakes later on in the road, especially with student loans. Those are the kinds of things that worry me.”
Izcan represents an important and growing voting bloc – nearly 40% of Texas’ population is Latino and about one in three eligible voters is Latino. The majority tend to vote Democratic, but the Republican-led state of Texas still sees higher levels of Latino support during elections compared to other parts of the country. In the 2018 midterm elections, 42% of Latinos voted for Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.
Izcan’s pretty clear about where he stands politically — to the right of his parents, but not too far right. He said he’s a centrist.
Before Super Tuesday, his parents supported Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who some Latinos affectionately called Tio Bernie. Izcan, however, leaned toward voting for former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg. He liked that he’s politically moderate and financially savvy.
“Being in Texas, we’re surrounded by a lot of the conservative ideologies and I do think they have played just a little bit of an effect on me growing up,” Izcan said. “Also, I’ve been fortunate to grow up in a middle class home. And so I don’t have the same kind of upbringing that my parents had.
"My dad was born in Mexico and my mom was born below the poverty line and so both of them have really done everything they can to get to the point where they don’t just have to work paycheck to paycheck to just feed the mouths at home."
Izcan’s proud of his parents and they’ve played a big part in shaping him. Mom Xochitl was born and raised in Chicago and his dad, Simon Ordaz, came to the U.S. from the state of Guanajuato when he was 16.
Neither parent wants to see President Donald Trump re-elected. One of the reasons is Trump’s rhetoric and policies on immigration.
"Obviously, I’m a citizen of the U.S., but I’m also an immigrant from Mexico and very proud of that culture,” Simon Ordaz said. “In fact, culture is my engine. That’s what keeps me going and so that’s what I bring to the table here in the U.S.”
His wife agreed.
“I think at the end of the day all the immigrants that come, come for a better life and that sacrifice,” Ortiz said. “To see immigrants being portrayed in such a negative way… I think it’s un-American first of all, but it’s also very hurtful for people who are here, who are immigrants.”
As Super Tuesday drew closer, Bloomberg, who Izcan thought about voting for, wasn’t doing well. Still, Izcan said he was excited about voting. One of his teachers had told him about the day his children voted for the first time. People in line cheered and applauded them.
“And so, I was anticipating something kind of similar to that, something exciting and supportive and energetic, but when I got there it was like not at all what I expected,” he said. “It was just very like, people just came in, you just went in and did your thing. It was like really quiet. Nobody said anything about it and then you moved on.”
"I just know that people want to see action happen."
Super Tuesday seems so long ago now. As it became clear that the pandemic wouldn’t end anytime soon, Izcan thought more about the U.S. economy and job insecurity. He wanted to know, what the candidates would do to fix the economy and how they would handle the pandemic.
“I feel like there’s a little bit more criticism than I’ve noticed before in terms of the federal government’s response and President Trump’s responses to this whole outbreak,” he said. “I know initially he was very dismissive about it. I’m not going to sit here and point blame and point fingers that that’s what could have caused the virus to get to this level, but I just know that people want to see action happen and if people still don’t have jobs by the time election time rolls around, (the outcome) may be a little different than I anticipated.”
Like many students across the country, Izcan attended his high school classes virtually. His neatly-kept bedroom became his classroom.
It was an adjustment.
“Overall, I think it’s been pretty hard to study and to try to learn something,” Izcan said earlier this year. “It might just be mixed with, like, a little bit of senioritis that I’m already feeling, but I think the loss of schedule and the loss of routine has really made it hard for a lot of students to stay on top of the work.”
He was also disappointed that high school milestones had to be postponed, like prom, graduation and getting to perform a song he co-wrote with a friend.
The end of senior year was not what Izcan envisioned, but there were some key moments over the summer.
In June, he marched in two Black Lives Matter protests. He said he felt compelled to do something after watching what he described as a painful video – footage of a white Minnesota police officer pressing his knee onto the neck of George Floyd, a Black man.
Like many young people around the country, Izcan said he couldn’t just sit at home. He said his peers, part of Generation Z, aren’t afraid to speak out against racism.
“I think as young people living in the United States, it really is our job to start to step up and to really make the future of the United States go in a different direction,” he said. “It is our job to really address certain issues and prevent certain mistakes that have happened by previous generations.”
Still, Izcan said he has a lot to learn about racial bias.
“I’ve had a lot of Black friends that lately have been speaking a lot out on social and it’s really given me insight into what life is like as an African American living in the United States. It’s something that I won’t relate to as a minority myself.”
Izcan’s parents aren’t shy about talking openly about difficult subjects with their son.
“We’ve had a lot of conversations with Izcan about these issues, how they’re playing out in the media,” Ortiz said. “And then we do talk about disparities, discrimination, we talk about slavery, history and just trying to make it in a society that’s doesn’t treat minorities the same or give minorities the same opportunities in a lot of areas.”
At the end of June, Izcan finally got to walk across the stage at his outdoor high school graduation. That night, his name was called out twice. Besides getting a diploma, Izcan also received the principal’s choice award for honorable character.
In August, he started college at the University of Texas in Austin. But instead of living on campus, he decided to stay home and take classes virtually. He said he didn’t want to risk catching the coronavirus.
Staying home has its perks, like home-cooked meals and spending more time with family.
He’s also able to his dad in their vast backyard garden, which includes zinnias, carrots, potatoes and dozens of other plants. The garden’s a way for the family to connect with their Mexican cultural roots.
“I think it was at age nine, all my classmates, they would finish school and then they went to work in the field,” Ordaz said. “Everyone knew how to use a shovel and all this physical work.”
And now Ordaz is teaching Izcan son how to do the same, even if the younger Ordaz isn’t always ready for it. Izcan described one morning his dad put him to work.
“I come outside and he’s got, like, all this dirt. I’m like ‘Why is there all this dirt on the sidewalk?” Izcan said. “And he’s like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s for us.’ I mean, it took us hours, all these trips to put out all this dirt.”
Izcan said hearing about his dad’s struggles as a newly-arrived immigrant has made him appreciate his dad even more. Simon was 16 when he arrived, just a couple of years younger than Izcan is now.
He came to finish high school and go to college. He worked as a busboy in restaurants in Chicago. Simon would finish his shifts at 1 or 2 a.m., then wake up at 6 a.m. to catch a bus and go to school.
“If I’m this age coming to a new country, I don’t know English — I’m like, ‘How could I do that?’” Izcan said one recent morning, sitting across from his dad at the kitchen table. “It was just always so hard for me to imagine that for myself. But I always did that. It would get me up in the morning.”
"I feel like a lot of young people are going to make an actual impact in this election."
A few days ago, Izcan, who turns 19 in December, voted in first presidential election. He met up with his dad and 20-year-old sister, Citlali, at a polling place in Fort Worth. This was also Citlali’s first time voting for president. They stood in line together.
“I feel disheartened when people think that their vote doesn’t matter because we all live in the society and we all contribute to it,” Citlali said. “So this is just one of the other ways that you can show your impact even if it is just a small little thing.”
Twenty minutes later, Izcan, Citlali and their dad walked out of the polling place. All three said they voted for Joe Biden.
“I feel pretty important,” Izcan said. “I feel like a lot of young people are going to make an actual impact in this election.”